Johnnetta Betsch Cole Named Senior Consulting Fellow at the Mellon Foundation


Cole will advise Executive Vice President Mariët Westermann and other colleagues at the Mellon Foundation on key initiatives and activities, particularly those related to the Foundation’s work on diversity, accessibility, equity, and inclusion in art museums and the academic disciplines related to the work of museums. 

“We have greatly valued Johnnetta’s manifold contributions to this critical work, in major institutional settings, over many years, and look forward to continuing our partnership as the Foundation continues to support progress in these areas across the country,” said Westermann.

“I am honored and excited by this opportunity to collaborate with Mariët Westermann and other Mellon Colleagues. Together, we will work to encourage and support more museums to tell the stories of all people through the beauty and the power of the visual arts.”

Cole has had a long and distinguished career in higher education and the arts. Through her work as a college president, museum director, professor, and community advocate—and through her published works, speeches, service, and consultations with corporations and nonprofit organizations—Cole has consistently addressed racial, gender, and other forms of inequality.

In March 2017, she retired as the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, a position she held for eight years. During her tenure, she helped raise the museum’s profile as the nation’s premier museum focusing on the visual arts of Africa through groundbreaking exhibitions and education programs. She also established the first chief diversity officer position at a Smithsonian museum.

She is president emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College.  She is also professor emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies.

Cole made history in 1987 when she became the first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College. During her presidency, Spelman was named the number-one liberal arts college of the South.  As president of Bennett College, Cole presided over the opening of the college’s art gallery and the establishment of its women’s studies and global studies programs.

In recognition of Cole’s many achievements, she has received 68 honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Barnard Medal, the Radcliffe Medal,  the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, The Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League, The Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women, The John W. Gardner Leadership Award from The Independent Sector, and the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award from the Points of Light Foundation.

An anthropologist by training, Cole holds a doctorate from Northwestern University. She has conducted research in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States, and has authored and edited several books and scores of scholarly articles. She is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. From 2015 to 2016 she was the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. She currently co-chairs the American Alliance of Museum’s Working Group on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion and is a member of the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is a Principal Consultant at the firm Cook Ross, Inc.

Founded in 1969, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.  Additional information is available at

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SOURCE The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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